Tag Archives: nonleague

The Importance of the Cup and the Underdog

For the first time since 1904, a non-league club has upturned all expectations and reached the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup.

Lincoln City are the team which have destroyed the odds to stand on the precipice of a visit to Wembley, with a semi-final spot up for grabs when they took on Arsenal. The match had the media frothing, as visits to the modest home of the Imps served to highlight the contrast in stature between the two clubs – just as they had done after the Imps had beaten Burnley.

It wasn’t only Sincil Bank and its stripped back appeal which had so enamoured the press. It was the possibility, even the remotest, that this ragtag bunch of chancers could create history and make the bookies cry once more. The match at The Emirates did not allow the media to have the moment they so craved as Arsenal showed their superiority, but the match captured the imagination at least. 

You see, everyone loves an underdog. In sport though – and especially football – the underestimated who succeed are immediately and for eternity encased in footballing amber. These lesser-spotted instances of insurmountable odds being cast aside are used as references and reminders that magic still exists. As fans, we are constantly inflicted with slideshows of when David overcame Goliath.

Wrexham defeating Arsenal in 1992. Sutton dumping Coventry out of the Cup. Even heroic near-misses constantly utilised, cut and edited to fit into yet another footballing montage. A prime example would be when Stevenage Borough came agonisingly close to embarrassing Newcastle United.

The bigger the opponent who stands in the way of this fairytale being complete, the grander the plot. When Arsenal recently visited Galders Green Lane to take on Sutton United, the spotlight which shone on the occasion was bigger than a Premier League match. If the home team had done the unthinkable and snatched a result against the Gunners, there would have been several cases of spontaneous human combustion in the press room.

Sadly for the majority of neutral fans, it wasn’t to be. Arsenal won comfortably without truly kicking into gear. They had picked a strong side for the fixture and ample respect was shown. The artificial pitch was a great leveller for the hosts, but there was just enough in the Gunners’ first gear to canter over the line.

For an upset to occur, the settings have to be just right. A home draw is usually a mandatory requirement, and the shabbier the dressing room for the visiting primadonnas, the better. Then, you need a sprinkle of the Premier League manager underestimating their opponent. Mix in with a liberal dash of a weakened team and you have the perfect storm for which to concoct a devilish result.

Above all else, there will always be a smidgin of an opportunity when eleven men take on eleven men. A wicked bounce of the ball, a swirling wind, a few players who just aren’t at the races. Any small variable can help the underdog battle for the most unlikely of results.

The difference between a round progressed in the FA Cup can make all the difference to these clubs who ply their trade in non-league. With Sutton and Lincoln getting so far and the media attention that has been on them, the clubs coffers can afford to be loosened a little. Surviving just below the top four divisions is no picnic, so one hundred thousand pounds here or there is enough to ensure a club can plan for the future.

An epic run to the third round and a plum draw against a mighty enemy is what every player, manager and Chairman in the non-leagues dream of. Every season the chance arises, and with so many rounds in place before this stage, the chances of reaching this threshold and then drawing a desired team are nearly as long as defeating a Premiership team.

The oft-referenced  ‘magic’ of the Cup is revived each time a minnow manages to swim far enough upstream and then finds itself in the company of the big boys. Without these ties, then the divide between the have’s and the have-not’s would fracture the game as we know it. 

The FA Cup holds football together. We often lose sight of this as the heat and relentless nature of the Premier League and Europe blinker us all. The FA Cup needs to thrive in order for the majority of clubs outside the top-flight to survive.

Arsenal Vs Lincoln City – FA Cup Preview

The sooner we can all forget the mess that was Bayern Munich – both legs – the better, and this match offers us all the comforting opportunity for a little happiness.

The 10-2 hammering at the hands of the German giants on paper looks as if we are further than ever from actually challenging at the top end of not only European competition, but domestically too – but there were positives to grasp at.

Our first half performances in both legs were competitive and full of attacking impetus which carved out plenty of chances, but it is our resolve and lack of fight which sees us look up at our competitors rather than on an even footing.

The Champions League is now consigned to the past thankfully, and firmly in our sights is the only chance for silverware we have this season – the FA Cup.

The first hurdle we have is Lincoln City – giantkillers they may be, but an opponent that should be steamrollered. Whilst there is a chance for an upset though, we need to be ruthless and approach this game like it were top-flight opposition.

The moment we think we already have this won is the moment we could fall to the most embarrassing defeat in FA Cup history. 

There are obstacles in our way that make this tie a lot more difficult than it appears.

There is the sickness bug which has ruled out Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi, and has debilitated Mesut Ozil in recent weeks. Ozil hasn’t been declared unfit yet, but the German may not be risked with our Premier League campaign in severe need of resurrection.

Santi Cazorla is out for the entire season and Mohamed Elneny is also ruled out, but we should have enough in the tank.

Aside from those above, it is all systems go. David Ospina, being the cup keeper, will likely keep his place in goal if he overcomes an ankle complaint, and Arsene Wenger will be well aware of how important the Cup is this season, so a strong side will be out in force.

Theo Walcott and Lucas Perez will be hopeful of playing from the start, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been particularly effective in the last few months so could get the nod. Ainslie Maitland-Niles and Jeff Reine-Adelaide are the likeliest to benefit from a bout of rotation, as the Champions League game may have rendered some fatigued.

Kieran Gibbs could come in for Nacho Monreal, but the midfield combo of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey seemed to have a positive effect on the Swiss star, perhaps because carrying Coquelin through the last few games has a distracting effect? 

National League leaders Lincoln have an FA Trophy Semi-Final in their midst, and sitting top of the league brings its own demands, but this tie represents the match of a lifetime for Danny Cowley’s men – and they will be unbelievably pumped for this  game.

The Imps have only lost two of their last 34 games, and are in great form, but there can be no excuses for anything other than a win. No matter how we win, don’t expect any plaudits from the press. 

If we win handsomely – it is merely what we should have done.

If we win by a one or two goal margin – we made tough work of it and we are a laughing stock.

If we draw – heaven forbid.

If we lose – Pray to Bergkamp.

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Gabriel, Gibbs, Xhaka, Ramsey, Theo, The Jeff, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud.

Predicted Scoreline – Arsenal 3-0

Sutton United Vs Arsenal – FA Cup Warm-Up

From the Allianz Arena to Gander Green Lane.

Arsenal’s last match was a drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League, and it has seen a fallout aimed squarely at Arsene Wenger which has intensified talks regarding his future.

The season does not pause though, and this game may now represent Arsenal’s best chance of silverware, and maybe a fitting send-off for their manager who is assessing his options.

Much has been made of the venue for this tie – with Sutton’s rotund goalkeeper even taking the Sky Sports team on a tour around the facilities at the 5,000 capacity ground. It is quite clear the setting that Arsenal’s players will find themselves in are far removed from their usual decadence, and it showed the gulf between the two clubs.

The world will be willing Sutton United on, and their tale is the embodiment of the FA Cup dream. The plucky non-league team face off against their accomplished professional opponents, and 99 times out of 100, the result would be in Arsenal’s favour.

There is always the chance for an upset though. Sutton will be running their hearts out and if any of the Gunners don’t apply themselves fully and take Paul Doswell’s team seriously – then a result even more shameful than our Wrexham nightmare 25 years ago could well be on the cards.

Wenger has declared he will pick a strong side for this game, and as it represents their last true chance for silverware this season, he is making the right decision. He will also be aware that his side do not play again until the 4th of March, so tired legs will not be in the equation.

He will be without Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Perez, and with Laurent Koscielny nursing a thigh injury, he is unlikely to be risked. 

So who will play? Wenger could field a whole team of fringe players, but there will be a large element of first teamers who will make up the side, especially with the gap in fixtures allowing ample recovery.

Danny Welbeck, Rob Holding, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ainslie Maitland-Niles and Gabriel will be looking to feature in the game and Theo Walcott will also be itching to play.

The speedy forward has been in fine form in the Cup this season, bagging five goals in his last two away cup games. He is precariously perched on 99 Arsenal career goals, and with the utmost respect to Sutton United, he will be gagging to get the magical 100th as soon as possible.

Arsenal offered to donate their match fee to Sutton United, a move which was blocked by the disillusioned bods at the FA. With a strong team though, they can boost this tie to the maximum and give Sutton a magical day.

The home side defeated AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United to earn their spot in the Fifth Round, but have inevitably had their heads swayed by this game. They have played four games since besting Leeds, and have won none of them, scoring a solitary goal in the process. 

Poor form perhaps, but they will be more than ready for Arsenal and the hullabaloo which will accompany their visit. A lot of the spotlight has been centred on a former Gunner in their ranks, and Craig Eastmond is looking to return to the big leagues with a big performance. 

Eastmond played ten times for the first team, and the defender turned midfielder came through the ranks at Arsenal, so will be well versed in Arsene Wenger’s approach. 

We take this side lightly at our own peril. With our confidence low and even the smallest potential for disaster, Arsenal have proved in the past we can be the masters of our own downfall. 

We must emphatically end the fairytale which Sutton are currently enjoying. A spot in the next round means another step closer to a potential Cup victory, one which would be savoured by Gooners and give us back the honour of being the side who has won it more than anyone else.

Realistically, we should be comfortable winners. This means nothing though when we take to the artificial pitch. This is a banana skin that the world wants us to slip on.

Predicted lineup: Ospina, Debuchy, Holding, Mustafi, Gibbs, Elneny, Coquelin, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Welbeck.

Predicted Scoreline: 3-0 Arsenal. Please.